By Jolee Jordan
Reno, Nevada — The Reno Rodeo is nearly a century old but there is nothing outdated about the entertainment and competition inside the huge Reno Livestock Events Center arena. With a capacity crowd every night, huge video boards to keep fans on top of the action and the toughest competitors in ProRodeo, Reno delivers excitement at the highest level.
Known as the Wildest, Richest Rodeo in the West, the Reno Rodeo is generally considered the kick off to summer for cowboys and cowgirls making their living on the rodeo road; with a huge committee purse of $37,500, Reno Rodeo is often a springboard to the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo (WNFR) and ProRodeo World Championships.
In the WPRA barrel racing, 96 ladies will have their chance at winning the coveted silver spurs awarded to the Reno Champion in each event. Each cowgirl will make two runs in a day, one in the morning slack and a second in the evening performance, with the fastest 12 on two runs returning for the championship round on Saturday night, June 24.
1st Set, Friday, June 16
Reno began on Friday, June 16 and it was a former WNFR qualifier, and a Reno finalist from a year ago, who led the way. Two-time WNFR qualifier Jane Melby is back on the hunt, riding another smoking fast black horse. Just days after a brilliant win in Sisters (OR), Melby opened the Reno Rodeo with a pair of runs in 34.66 seconds to take the early lead. Her new mount, Perks Pazazz, also took Melby to the early second go lead during the opening performance.
“Reno Rodeo grandstands were packed last night. I looked at all the people and it gave me a huge burst of excitement. I love performing in front of a packed arena,” Melby noted on her Facebook page. “I wasn’t sure how Perks Pazazz was going to handle all the people. Apparently she was thinking the same thing I was! She is such an amazing horse. Special thanks to my family for all that they do for me, and the wonderful God we have.”
2nd Set, Saturday, June 17
Melby’s lead was short lived as Columbia River Circuit cowgirl Kathy Grimes came to town in the second set of competitors on Saturday. Grimes is second in the WPRA World standings despite taking most of the spring off to manage her embryo transfer business, Nine-Oh Barrel Horses. Picking up right where she left off this winter, Grimes picked up big checks in Sisters and Pleasant Grove (UT) before arriving in Reno.
Riding her sorrel mare, KG Blazin Nine Oh who is known as Ruby around the barn, Grimes posted 17.19 and 17.28 in her two runs to grab the lead from Melby at 34.47 seconds.
“Summer has started! Kathy and the girls are back on the road and picked up right where they left off,” came a message on the Nine Oh Barrel Horses Facebook page. “Kathy is riding KG Blazin Nine Oh at these big open pens and Ruby loves to rodeo!”
Wilderness Circuit cowgirl Jennifer Barrett streaked to the first round lead with a blistering run of 17.16 seconds in the morning slack. Barrett rides Beduinos Prospector, aka Larry, a six year whom she has owned for about a year.
“I love his attitude as he takes it all in one run at a time and does his best every time,” says Barrett, who is shooting for her first Wilderness Circuit Finals Rodeo qualification this year. “He is still a little green to the rodeo world and we are very excited for his future.”
“We are pretty proud,” she notes. Though barrel penalties in round two will prevent the pair from making a return trip to Reno for the short go on Saturday, June 24, their first round time should land them a nice paycheck.
3rd Set, Sunday, June 18
As temps heated up across the southwest over the weekend, the competition in Reno predictably got hotter too. The third set of cowgirls to compete got going with six ladies landing inside the top 10 of the first round during the slack.
Leading the way in the first round is current WPRA World leader Tiany Schuster who is on a record-smashing pace in earnings in 2017. As the summer is just beginning, Schuster has won over $148,000, just about $42,000 from breaking Mary Burger’s regular season earnings record set just last season.
Schuster landed fourth in the first round aboard Version Six with her 17.30 second run.
Two-time WNFR qualifier Sydni Blanchard gave her effort to return to Vegas a big boost in the Sunday evening performance when she and her mare, Famous Heartbreaker, blasted to the fastest time of the rodeo at 16.99 seconds.
When paired with her 17.34 from the first round, Blanchard took command of the leaderboard with 34.33 on two runs. Currently ranked 19th in the WPRA World standings, Blanchard has also been on a hot streak lately and is hoping to earn her first set of Reno spurs.
Also lighting up the Sunday crowd was Melby’s daughter, Cayla Small. The 2016 Rookie of the Year and WNFR qualifier paired her 17.38 from round one with a fast 17.09 in round two to grab second in the second round and a share of second in the average with Grimes just ahead of her mother.
Reno is notoriously difficult to win: Charmayne James is the last cowgirl to earn multiple titles here, earning her last in 2001. No one has repeated as champion here since Kristie Peterson and Bozo won three in a row 1997-99. That trend will continue in 2017 as reigning champ Stevi Hillman took a costly barrel penalty on Sunday night, eliminating her chance to return for the final round.
The Reno Rodeo continues on Monday with a stacked field that includes the 2016 Reserve Champ in Reno, Kimmie Wall, along with the newly crowned College National Finals Rodeo champion Hailey Kinsel. Three cowgirls currently in the top 11 of the WPRA World standings—Kellie Collier (9th), Ari-Anna Flynn (10th) and Ivy Conrado (11th)—will also compete on Monday.
Tuesday brings the seventh ranked cowgirl Tillar Murray and the WPRA’s leading rookie this season, Taci Bettis, along with her hauling partner Tammy Fischer. Fischer is a veteran of five WNFR’s and is currently 14th in the WPRA standings; she is also one of three former Reno Champs still to compete here in 2017. Fischer won the title in 2002. The others are Christine Laughlin (2014), who will compete on Thursday and Timi Lickley (2010), who’s up on Friday.
Each performance of the Reno Rodeo can be watched live on The Wrangler Network. For more information on the Reno Rodeo, visit them on-line at www.renorodeo.com.
1.Jennifer Barrett, Beduinos Prospector, 17.16 seconds
2.Kathy Grimes, KG Blazin Nine Oh, 17.19
3.Taylor Jacob, Honor Thy Frenchman, 17.23
4.Tiany Schuster, Version Six, 17.30
5.Sydni Blanchard, Famous Heartbreaker, 17.34
6.Cayla Small, 17.38
7.Brittany Kelly, The Opossum, 17.39
8.Rachel Dice, Tivitosatthegogobar, 17.45
9.Jane Melby, Perks Pazazz , 17.50 seconds
10.Stevi Hillman, Cuatro Fame, 17.53
1.Blanchard, 16.99 seconds
6.Sheena Robbins, Bar D Mr Dual Olena, 17.44
7.Sammi Bessert, Terrible Tommy Twist, 17.45
8.Jamie Gee, Tuckers Fast Lane, 17.47
10.Sherry Cervi, Dash ta Diamonds, 17.52
1.Blanchard, 34.33 seconds on two head
10.Jill Welsh, French First Watch, 35.38
11.Kimberli Quinn, 35.49
12.Michele McLeod, 35.62
Courtesy of WPRA